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[Pages 311-313]

There once was a Town Called Staszów

by Yehiel Wajnsztok, Hertzliya

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Across Poland's sweeping fields and forests, half-paved roads led to the small town of Stasz ów, which spread out into the surrounding villages, with their poor little houses and thatched roofs. Green fields stretched for long distances, ponds dotted the zigzagging roads, and a river flowed through the town, calm and quiet, like the lives of its inhabitants.

Often the river overflowed its banks and flooded the surrounding area, reaching the poor houses at the end of town, and the Folvark district. This would happen at the end of winter, when the sun's warm rays melted the snow and the thick ice of the river. Great chunks of ice were swept along in the current, heralding a transformation in nature. And when the river was reinforced by the streams that fed it, it became noisy and boastful, like a newly-rich person, showing off what it could do.

The townspeople considered this a punishment for the sins they had committed over the past year. The water-carriers were the exception. Burdened with their heavy water buckets, they were happy that the waters had risen to the top of the bank, making it easier to draw water to supply their well-to-do customers.

The fearsome flood time would pass, and the river withdrew to its generations-old path, once again flowing quietly through gardens and fields, disappearing into the distance, where it joined the Vistula River.

In the middle of town was the market place, a cobblestoned square bordered on all four sides with wide sidewalks. In the center there sprawled the old rathoyz [townhall], its thick brick walls housing shops where Jews and Christians earned their living. The market place, surrounded with white houses, was the heart of the town. This is where Jewish commerce blossomed. Here, in later years, buses came and went to and from distant places, bringing and taking away people and merchandise. With every arriving bus came news from the big city, which quickly spread all over town, and which was discussed by groups of the curious under the spreading chestnut trees.

The market days were special events. Hundreds of peasants from the entire region would arrive with their products. Their unharnessed horses were tied up to the fence, and the products were laid out in the wagons: potatoes, poultry, carrots, onions, cabbage, and so on. As if they were starving, hundreds of people fell upon the peasants and bought up everything they could.

The pleased peasants set off at lunchtime for the Jewish shops, to buy what they needed: blouses, trousers, hats, shoes, wooden items, work tools and most importantly, to have a drink of whiskey to moisten their parched throats. In the very noisy taverns, bottles of liquor were emptied in the blink of an eye. Peasant women dragged their husbands out of the tavern by force, afraid for the last few zlotys remaining from their receipts for the entire market day.

Young gentile men, embracing their women, strolled around the shops, buying colorful ribbons, cheap pins, beads and holy icons for their beloveds. All the streets were lively on a market day.

Everyone waited eagerly for a market day--merchants, artisans and all kinds of dealers and peddlers. The town earned its living for a whole week. Beggars also made their living on market day; when business is good, people give generously.

Here, in the midst of a noisy crown, sits a blind peasant, humming along as he tunelessly strums a broken instrument. Each time someone drops a coin in his grimy cap, he mumbles something and humbly crosses himself.

When evening came, the peasants, half- or completely drunk, began to leave town, shouting wildly. A few bellowed out some weird melody, and a few simply spouted a colorful array of juicy curses aimed at the town.

Night came on in its majesty. Jews breathed more freely without the commotion of the market and the drunkards. They were very pleased, and gave thanks to the Almighty for providing the people of Israel with their livelihoods, but in their hearts they were profoundly sad over their fate, as a people whose existence depended upon the bounty of others.

Young people and workers enjoyed themselves in the evenings. They would gather in groups or in their clubs to discuss various world problems and their own futures. Pairs of sweethearts strolled the half –dark streets, looking up at the starry sky and dreaming of a beautiful, free future somewhere far away – in the land of their forefathers, in a land where the sky is bluer than blue, where goats eat the fruit of the carob tree, and oranges are strewn about the streets, in a land where pioneers pave roads, build houses, and plant gardens, in a land where all the inhabitants are Jews and where a drunkard is nowhere to be found.

But not everyone dreamed of the lovely Mount Carmel, or the Jezreel Valley. There were some who dreamed of a just world somewhere else. Or, as they said, “Wherever things are good, that is my fatherland.”[1] These dreams and ideals led to heated arguments. The young people devoted all their powers to convincing their opponents of the correctness of their chosen way. The town was full of turmoil.

Feeling confined by the town, the dynamic young people relocated their activities to the surrounding fields and nearby woods. Not far from the church was a road that led to the Christian cemetery, and from there, to the expansive green fields. The church –large, imposing, with a wide yellow gate, stood at the end of town, like a sentinel. Its high towers, big and small, built in the Gothic style, soared into the sky. The great brass bell pealed out every evening, calling believers to prayer and good deeds. The sorrowful, monotonous sound cast a mood of fear over the deep stillness of the town.

But when the young people ran past the church and reached the fields, they immediately felt a change in the natural surroundings that filled their hearts with joy and cheer. The green fields, the aroma of the flowers and other plants, the breadth and richness of nature, the blue skies with little white clouds – all of this created a feeling of youth and freshness.

The day ends and the sun casts it last rays over the strolling young people and the fields and woods. The stalks in the field sway majestically in a light breeze, saying prayers to their creator and priding themselves in their role in life: to sustain the existence of the crown of creation –mankind.

The quiet calm of the woods is pierced by loud, youthful laughter and hearty singing. Passing the cemetery, you hear, from under a tree, off to the side, a sad melody sung to a mandolin, and accompanied by a chorus.

On the right hand side of the hilly descent was a deep dale. There the young people held heated discussions or pored over a book about Darwin, [Peter] Kropotkin, or Marx. Here, in this vale, young people conducted their intellectual lives. Here, their consciousness was forged, here they dreamt their lofty dreams of building their own Jewish home, of establishing justice in the world and love among all mankind.

Photo caption p.313 Activists of the I.L.Peretz Library.

 


Footnote

  1. This is a reference to the motto of the Bund, i.e. the Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland (General Workers' Union I Lithuania, Poland and Pussia). Usually phrased as “Wherever I am, that is my fatherland,” it expressed the Bund's position of “do-ikayt” or “hereness”, maintaining that Jews could find their home in any country where they lived, and did not need to live in Israel, as the Zionists held. (ML) Return


[Pages 314-315]

I take my leave of Staszów, my hometown

by Khaye Solnik, Haifa

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

The day I left my town, Staszów, was a day of struggle as well as happiness. The deep emotional ties with my family, party comrades, and friends, revealed themselves in feelings of brotherly devotion and in a belief in a common fate, in moments of both joy and sorrow.

This comradeship [among members of the Poalei Zion (Labor Zionists) was expressed in various ways and circumstances. Sometimes it took the form of financial assistance, whenever any of our group had an urgent need. Or it could be help of another kind. It was always the party that was the first to offer its brotherly hand, supporting every needy person, however and whenever it could.

It was especially apparent when one of the members fell ill, and everyone was willing to stand watch, prepared to do everything they could to get the sick person back on his feet, physically and materially. This was how our young people related to each other.

Our youth was also on a high level culturally and intellectually. One needed only to say the words, “Staszówer youth”, and the immediate association was with cultural development and social consciousness.

Given this kind of warm, comradely feeling, it was very hard for me to break away from family, comrades and friends.

On the other hand, the ideology and political consciousness of the Jewish political parties also made claims on us and affected our actions, even when they were diametrically opposed to our human and comradely emotions. The ideal of “building the land”, for which we had fought a difficult and uncompromising struggle for many years, with the other Jewish socialist parties in town, like the Bund and the Communists, vanquished and overshadowed our personal feelings.

Thus, when the decisive day of departure arrived, I was overcome with both joy and sorrow. There was joy, because I was one of the few who were privileged to realize their longed-for dream, to personally take part in the establishment of a home for a people without a home. There was sadness, because at the same time I was obliged to tear myself away from my deep ties to the natural beauty of our town, its expansive green fields, its beautifully kept garden, the romantic Golejów woods, with its lakes, where we lounged by moonlight on enchanted nights. And most important, because of the drastic separation, perhaps forever, from the town's human landscape, the brilliant, cultivated, sincerely dedicated youth, to whom I was deeply attached.

The collegial characteristics described above revealed themselves in all their beauty on the day of my departure. The whole Poalei Zion membership abandoned their work, gathering together in the market place, from which the cars were leaving, in order to participate in the joy of a comrade, with whom they had dreamed and struggled. From the faces beaming with joy and the eyes moist with emotion, one could clearly see how the group was experiencing the event.

Spontaneously, without anyone having said anything, people joined hands and began dancing a boisterous hora. In the midst of all this joy, there appeared the Polish police, who could not tolerate the noise of the singing and dancing young Jews, who were “disturbing the peace.” And -- who knows? -- perhaps this was, God forbid, all being done at the direction of the revolution. They began chasing people from the market place, far away, into Opatowska Street.

When the “revolution” had been repelled, the group renewed their singing and dancing, until the car began to move, disappearing into the unseeable distance. With tears in my eyes, I took my last glimpse of my unbelievably beloved town, which I never again was able to see.

Photo caption: p.315 The wedding of the Rabbi's daughter.


[Pages 316-317]

The Golejów Woods

by Itsik Kozuchowicz, Or-Yehuda [Israel]

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

For many Staszówers, wherever they may be, their memories of the town's gathering places -- the meadows that stretched out, flat as a table, beyond the town; the road to the cemetery; and, especially, the Golejów Woods –will evoke a myriad of thoughts and associations. There will flow through their memories as through a kaleidoscope, pleasant impressions of the time they spent in the midst of these splendid natural landscapes, under the proud, quietly moving trees, on the deep, lush, aromatic grass, or among the swaying, bending stalks in the fields.

Sadly, the Angel of Memory is no match for the Angel of Forgetting. That is why our memories retain only a few traces of the rich treasury of our experiences, and why I will be able to reconstruct here only a fraction of the past, which the ravages of time have not managed to obscure.

Full of life and zest – those were the hallmarks of Staszów's youth. Impulsive and dynamic, these young people yearned for freedom with all their soul, and could not bear to be confined by the crowded, airless town. So they sought and found ways and means to free themselves from the strict, intolerant scrutiny of their conservative, backward-looking parents, and from sneaks and gossips, who often caused unnecessary and unpleasant conflicts.

The innumerable quiet places around town served not only romantic couples, or walkers come to breathe the clean, fresh, fragrant and healthy air of the forest. They also served as a meeting place for various [political] parties and movements, legal and illegal, who were able to conduct a large part of their activities, undisturbed, in the fresh air.

Often, large crowds of Jewish youth, carrying flags and wearing the uniform of the Scouts [Hashomer Hatzair, Young Guard], went off into the woods, where they spent the whole day outdoors, soaking up the intoxicating, healthy smells of the pine trees.

It must be stressed that one of the most important characteristics of the youth of Staszów, was that the “freedom” which they sought was not of the kind that aims to rid itself of every burden, so as to live carefree, without restrictions or scruples. Modesty, restraint, respect for the limits of decency – that was their motto.

The most hateful accusation these young people could make was “filisteriye” [Philistinism, petit bourgeois mentality]. They didn't want to rid themselves of all burdens, just one specific one –the burden of thoughts, customs and a way of life, that were imposed upon them by the older generation and in which they saw –rightly or not –the source of stagnation, backwardness and hopelessness.

Not yet completely liberated from this burden of the past, our young people had already voluntarily assumed, with the fervor they inherited from those same backward parents -- new obligations and tasks, for which they would go to the ends of the earth. Our youth took up the new ideas –whether specifically Jewish or general, worldly ideas – with such deep respect and conviction, as if their own fate depended on them. They knew about every newly published literary work of socialist or scientific content. Herzl and Marx, Freud and Darwin, Yehuda Leib Peretz and Nietzsche, Bialik and Byron -- the young people read them all with ardor, in the consciousness that they were participating in building a new and better world on the ruins of the old.

In essence, the new “freethinking” young generation and the older, traditional-religious generation, were as alike as two peas in a pod. Both – the “freethinking” young and their religious parents – lived more in the world of intellect and imagination than in the concrete reality of their impoverished environment. Both – each in its own way—believed deeply in their abstract, insular truths, and with the full earnestness and sincerity of their pure, idealistic souls, made every effort to implement them in their concrete, day to day lives.

The relationship between our young people and the Golejów Woods took an entirely different and tragic form during the last, unfortunate war, when the bearers of the swastika conducted their so-called “aktsies”, or killings of Jews. The woods no longer served as a place for enjoyment and rest, but as a safe haven for hundreds of Jewish young people, whose fate became tied to the woods, where they found protection and salvation. In the woods –a blessed spot for the tired, ill and dreaming souls in normal times – a shocking struggle played out among the innocent, thoughtful youth of Staszów and the pathological Nazi executioners, whose goal was the complete annihilation of the last remaining Jews.

If the trees could talk, they would have told of horrifying events, of human savagery, during which hundreds of Jewish youth, among them children, who so yearned for life, lost their lives. But the trees cannot speak, so in that horrifying time, they bent their heads in shame, and murmured a quiet Kaddish for the innocent martyrs.

Photo caption: p.317 A group of students in 1925


[Pages 318-320]

Personalities and Events in the Town

by Michael Czapnik, Buenos Aires

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Thirty-three years have passed since I left Staszów, the town where I was born. But not a day goes by that I don't recall, with deep longing, the town and its unique, colorful, Jewish life, which was, despite great poverty, full of piety, intellectual activity, and traditional Jewish kindness.

 

Reb Yisroel Karpen

A refined, decent person; not a Hasid, not a religious scholar, but a person with a rare, good Jewish heart - that was the wealthy Reb Yisroel Karpen.

On the worst days of winter, you could frequently see him wading through the deep snow, often over his knees, wearing a fine fur coat and boots, as he accompanied an array of wagons, packed with wood and potatoes, directing the drivers to deliver a sack of potatoes here, a bundle of wood there, and somewhere else a handsome gift for an honorable, needy family. He would often pay for repairs to the synagogue and generally provide for other communal needs. He was an unusually goodhearted person, who spoke little, but who did a lot.

 

Reb Yehiel Morgensztern

Reb Yehiel Morgensztern, or, as he was called, Yehiel Magid [preacher/story teller], would, for as long as I knew him, bestow the light of the Torah upon the common folk, working “for the increase and glory of the Torah.” Every Sabbath afternoon you could find this simple man of the people in the large besmedresh,[1] surrounded by dozens of Jewish craftsmen, teaching them traditional Jewish learning.

He himself did not have full access to this learning - probably because of the circumstances of his upbringing and the need to earn a living. But he nevertheless read the texts aloud and explained them. In the summer, he studied Pirkei Avos [Sayings of the Fathers] with his students, reading with a sweet, languid, moving melody, while “Little Yosele” brought him ice-cold water from the spring.

In the winter, he would teach these hardworking common folk a bit of Mishnah, or Midrash Tanchuma or Chumash with Rashi,[2] adapting his explanations to the comprehension skills of his audience, using examples from daily life. The same Yosele would serve him hot tea.

Hersh Wolf Najman also participated in performing this great mitzvah of helping simple folk to penetrate these texts, which had been inaccessible to them, by bringing each person the appropriate book.

As the group diligently studied with the “rabbi”, Fayvele Wassertreger [water carrier], sitting behind the oven, would prick up his ears and look on with envy. Fayvele, a pious, observant, simple soul, wanted with all his heart to study along and to be able to taste a bit of the “world to come”. But he wasn't able to do so, having no idea of what the texts said. Turning his dreamy eyes of those sitting around the table, he became calmer, feeling as if he was partaking in the great mitzvah.

 

1905

The revolutionary upheaval that engulfed the Tsarist Empire reached our town as well. Staszów, with its hundreds of Jewish workers employed in light industry, such as tanning, tailoring, shoe manufacture and whip manufacture, took the revolution very seriously. One Friday night, Staszów workers, apparently wishing to demonstrate that they weren't lagging behind big city workers, set off a bomb in the house of Zissel Nisencwajg. Luckily, no one was injured. A short time later, the “revolutionaries” threw a bottle of sulfuric acid at Nehemia Nisencwajg, disfiguring his face.

 

1917

The Balfour Declaration evoked enormous joy in the town. People danced in the street, wished each other, “gut yontev” [happy holiday] and mazel-tov. All the Zionist groups and sympathizers gathered at the headquarters of the Mizrachi [religious Zionists' party] to publically express their joy over this historical event.

 

1925

Masses of people gathered in the synagogue, to celebrate the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. For Jews, this marked a modest beginning toward the realization of the generations-old wish: “Ki mi'tsion tetzei torah” [the Torah will go forth from Zion.]

Moyshe Dajtelbaum began to speak in Hebrew about the tremendous significance of this cultural holiday for the Jewish people. A commotion broke out, as the Yiddishists demanded that he speak in Yiddish. Yosl Ajdelkop (Lisa's husband) and Leyzer Kawel restored order, expelling the disrupters.

That same year, a number of cultural undertakings took place, including a series of lectures by Yosl Mastbaum on Mendele [Moykher-Sforim], Sholem Aleichem and [Yehuda Leyb] Peretz [the three classic Yiddish writers].

 

1926

One Wednesday evening, Mordekhai Goldfeder brought me a telegram from [the headquarters of the Left Poalei Zion party in Warsaw, in which we were informed that [Yankev] Zerubavel would be coming to our town, where he would give two lectures on the Sabbath: “From Crimea to Palestine” and “From Peretz to Leivick”. It was clear that we must quickly obtain permission from the authorities to hold the two public gatherings. This could only be done at the powiat [county government] in Sandomierz. With a heavy snow falling, we turned to our comrade in the party, Zelig Monster,[3] the son of Pinchus Doler, and gave him the necessary papers and money to send to Sandomierz. Despite the bad weather, Monster, without delay or hesitation, set off on the road, saying, “The party's decision is sacred for me.” In the meantime, we rented the firemen's hall. On Friday night we received a telegram from Zelig, stating that everything was set. The police also gave permission.

But soon a new difficulty arose. Because Zerubavel was due to arrive on the Sabbath, the leadership of the kehile [organized Jewish community], headed by Efraim Zinger, made a commotion: “What!? Such a desecration of the Sabbath!” In short, they got the mayor, Krauze, to cancel the event at the firemen's hall. Seeking an alternative, we rented a private house, where the lecture was given, with great success. During the first lecture, Avrom Zylbersztajn made an announcement that one could obtain free land in the [Soviet] Crimea. Today, Avrom Zylbersztajn lives in Israel. The serving of foreign idols was of no avail to him. After a long period of wandering through various countries, he found peace in the Jewish homeland.

Photo captions: p.319 The orchestra of the sports club, Hakoach.


Footnotes

  1. Besmedresh: house of study, also used for worship. Return
  2. Mishnah, etc. - staples of the Jewish educational curriculum. Mishnah was the basic legal code, the core of the Talmud. Pirkei Avos, a short tractate of the Mishnah, contains maxims of the early rabbis. Midrash Tanchuma was a popular homiletical collection, based on the books of the Torah, from about the seventh century. Chumash (Pentateuch - the Five Books Genesis through Deuteronomy) with Rashi (rabbinical commentator, eleventh century) was the staple of elementary Jewish education and universally popular among religious Jews of all ages. (LL) Return
  3. Zelig Monster-this was his name phonetically in Yiddish, not a translation. (ML) Return


[Pages 321-322]

Staszów, My Town

by Chaim Wagner, Sao Paolo

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

I have often dreamt about my town. I've often thought about going there, to see, once again, its beautiful landscape - the quietly flowing river, whose banks rose up to the tops of the thick green shrubbery; the green, grassy meadows; and the dense woods, which stretched out for kilometers into the distance. I've longed for the beautiful summer nights, which resounded with the singing of young workers.

How dear to me is the memory of my town. Even with its poverty and deprivation, the fear of fires, my freezing home, where the window panes were covered, all winter long, with flowers of frost and the interior walls sparkled with snowflakes.

Permit me to mention just a few types, who stand out in my memory and who deserve to have their names eternalized.

One of the finest people I've ever known was Hindl Erlichman. She was a mother to the entire youth of Staszów. She protected and comforted all of us in the difficult moments of our youthful struggles. Anyone who was oppressed by the strictures of old-fashioned parents who didn't understand the turmoil of youth and didn't know how to alleviate their children's suffering; anyone who simply needed help - everyone turned to her.

She found time for everyone, and ways to ease their burden and encourage them. She was also known for her skill as a specialist in healing deformed limbs, and devoted much time to those ill with rheumatism. She responded to every call from the sick - in rain and wind, snow and freezing cold, by day or night - it was never too early or late for her to come to the aid of those in need. All of this for no pay; it was pure, voluntary work. That's the kind of person Hindl Erlichman was.

Next, was Rokhl Segal. She was a young, gentle soul with a lot of Jewish charm. She gave some of the best public literary readings in town. Each time she performed, she made a great impression on the audience, evoking respect and love. She was very often invited to perform her recitations at various organizational events, with the proceeds going to charitable causes, and there were organizations that never held an event without her participation.

And, now, about the trade unions in Staszów. The leather union was a model of organization. It conducted the largest number of strikes and succeeded in improving working conditions. Chaim Ber (Dov) Rosenmuter and Isser Goldberg were active in the leadership. As one of the active members of the leadership, I can testify that these two suffered great persecution from the Polish authorities, who hostilely persecuted the activities of the well-disciplined Jewish trade unions.

It is the duty of our era, after what occurred, to rally around the survivors, who are concentrated in Israel, the foundation for our existence. We must reweave the golden thread of our great past, to connect the past with the present, leading toward a new and beautiful future. We must maintain fraternal contact and follow closely the activities of all our landsmanshaften all over the world.

Photo Caption: p.322 Theater production of “The Man From Vilna”. Director, M. Dajtelbaum. Seated, from right to left: V. Ajzenberg, Y. Frydman, Ch. Goldflus. Standing: Sh. Ajdelsberg, L. Frydman, ….,Yurmi,….., P. Frydman.


[Pages 323-234]

Intellectual Staszów

by Reizel Bukszpan, Los Angeles

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Staszów was a small town, but its worries were many. First, in the material realm: the question, “How will we manage to buy what we need for the Sabbath?” was a constant one. The daily struggle to survive was hard, and much diligence, enterprise and ingenuity were required to withstand the difficulties, and to keep one's head above water. But, despite the difficult material conditions, the concern for education - actually, self-education and intellectual activities in general - came first for the vast majority of the Jewish community.

The town's economy may have been stagnant, but in the realm of the intellect, it made constant progress. Among all segments of the population, there was a kind of competition: who could learn more, know more, etc. So the intellectual life of the town blossomed and grew.

The besmedroshim[1] were full of students disputing religious law. Passing by, one could almost always hear the sweet chanting of the students, who remained true to the heritage of the Torah, soaking up the treasure of our spiritual past.

Then there were our serious, thoughtful young people, who, usually after a long day of work, gathered in various organizations, where with great passion and conviction, they preached the new social and national ideas. In truth, these ideas weren't so new. Their magic lay in their modern terminology, the modern dress in which they were expressed. At their core, these ostensibly new ideas drew their nourishment from the rich heritage of our great prophets. More than 2000 years ago, these spiritual and moral giants established the noblest, firmest foundation for the co-existence of nations and the relationships between people, a foundation that represents the culmination of the finest aspirations of the human race.

One need only cite the splendid vision of the future as expressed by our great dreamer, the prophet Isaiah: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”; “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks”; “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” One need only consider the striving for right and justice which is the shared hallmark of all of the prophets, in order to be convinced how close our “new” modern ideas were to those already formulated in those long-past times, when the majority of nations were still sunk in depredation and criminality.

Even today, many nations are not yet liberated from these traits. Many have even, horribly and cold-bloodedly, manifested how deeply engrained these traits are by trying -- and, unfortunately, mostly succeeding -- to exterminate that nation to which humankind owes the enchanting, idealistic dreams of social justice and peace and happiness among people and nations.

How deeply sad it is that our dear, kind, humane Staszów community, which devoted all its powers to the struggle for justice, right and peace among nations, was wiped from the face of the earth in such a criminally sadistic way. How heartbreaking is the physical annihilation of our dearest ones, the annihilation of a Jewish community that had existed for hundreds of years. How heartbreaking is the moral ruin of humanity which, if only it had wanted, could have prevented the catastrophe, or at least, significantly reduced it.

Photo caption: p.324 The Talmud Torah in Staszów


Footnote

  1. Besmidroshim: Singular:. besmedresh, house of study, also used for worship. (ML) Return


[Pages 325-236]

The Hidden Boxes

by Shprintse Varger, Sao Paolo

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

The Jewish population in Staszów, like other towns in Poland, consisted mostly of small merchants, artisans and workers, living largely in poverty and crowding. The young people, most of whom were politically aware and participated in various political groups, had many bleak days, but that made for interesting and often intellectual evenings, in which spirited discussions and singing created a joyful and festive atmosphere.

On these evenings, young healthy souls were united in one song, in which dreams, hopes and belief in a better future, in the realization of captivating ideals, were the shared hallmarks of the sharply differing segments of the youth of Staszów.

My home was similar to many others in the town, and our family had to deal with the same economic, social, political and spiritual problems that plagued most of the community. But there was one way in which we were different, that particularly stirred my imagination, and in which I, a little girl, took special pride: That was the frequent police searches of our home, which happened to us and no one else.

This suggested to me a kind of secret, incomprehensible world, a world that was frightening and repellant, yet at the same time magnetically appealing. I can see, as if it were today, the tall, slim figure of Meyer Cimerman, being taken away by the police, while my mother quickly runs up to our attic.

Only later did I, unnoticed by anyone, go up there, where I discovered the secret. To my great surprise I found large boxes packed full of strange, illegal literature. Hundreds of books and pamphlets, under the name Walka, were wrapped in rags, as if to protect them from the cold. Each day, I was drawn to these boxes as by a magnet. The illegal books drew me into a completely different world, explaining to me the songs that Leatshe Fuks, Rivka Wagner and others would sing as they sat at their sewing machines.

After a while, I came to prefer the attic to my home. The hidden books told of a new, just, happy world, a world that was still dormant, but was waiting confidently for the power, the inevitable power, that would reveal and transform it, with rejoicing and triumph, into reality.

Photo caption: p.326 The official town Rabbi administers the oath to Jewish soldiers in the market place.


[Pages 327-31]

Superstitions and Folk Sayings

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Here are some superstitions and folk-sayings that were common in Staszow and its environs, and often well-beyond.

Superstitions

Children who play with cats, will become stupid.
Children who eat hearts will also become stupid.
Children who climb through an open window will not grow.
Children who shake their legs are cursing their parents.
One mustn't wash the heads of children less than a year old.
Parents whose children have died, should dress their other children in white clothing.
When you sew on clothes while they are being worn by someone, you should eat something at the same time, so as not to sew up their brains.
If someone sneezes while they're talking, it means they're telling the truth.
When you sneeze, you should tug on your ear.
To best heal a wound, apply a spider web to it.
To protect against the evil-eye, use seven pieces of bread and seven pieces of hot coals.
When you encounter someone carrying a full water can, that is a good omen; if the water can is empty, it is a bad omen.
As a remedy for a critically ill person, give him the additional name, Chaim [“Life”].

 

Folk-sayings

It's good to eat kugel with your own folks [not with outsiders]
It's good to go to shul with your own folks.
When the church bell rings, it's a [Christian] holiday.
Even a cat can ruin things. [Compare: “Little sparks can kindle big fires.”]
Walls have ears.
Faced with temptation, your promise is of no avail.
A tsadek in peltz-“a righteous man wearing furs.”[1]
Odom iz a mentsh un katshkele rir zikh!”- “Adam is a human being, and duckling, get a move on!”[2]
Each person sees the other's humpback [i.e., faults].
No one can have everything.
The time has come for her to hear the music.[3]
How you make your bed, that's how you'll sleep.
If you have a good morning, you'll have a good year.
“From King Sobieski's time:”[4]
“From the Fast of Esther to Purim.”[5]
When a fool throws a stone into the water, not even ten smart people can pull it out.
You can live to 70, and still remain a fool.
Ale naronim hobn eyn ponim- all fools are alike [lit, “have the same face”].
A dream is a fool.
It's better to lose to a smart person, than to win with a fool.
A khokhem fun di manishtane-He's wise when it comes to the Four Questions.[6]
What he has inside, he throws it all out [i.e., he lacks self-censorship or discretion].
Little kids chew on what the grownups spit out. [Little pitchers have big ears]
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
God sits up above, and matches up couples [i.e., arranges marriages] down here.
God sends the remedy before the ailment.
If God wills it, a broom can shoot bullets.
Man proposes and God disposes. [Literally: “Man plans and God laughs.”]
When you chop wood, splinters fly.
When the sheep are shorn, the lambs tremble.
You don't tell a hanged man: “Hang up my jacket.”
Don't show a stick to a dog that's been beaten.
When you thump on the table, the scissors will jump. [i.e. that's all you'll accomplish by being loud/angry]
He has a mouth full of pitch and sulfur [verbally assails people].
A blow subsides, but a [hurtful] word abides.
Alongside a loaded wagon, it's easy to walk.
The pitcher keeps carrying water, until its handle breaks off.
Neighbor, why are you in such a rush? You're not yet on your way to the cemetery!
One person laughs, while another one cries.

Photo caption: p.328 Yashe Winer


Footnotes

  1. “A righteous man wearing furs.” This expression derives from a Hasidic tale, which contrasts an ostensibly righteous man, who when it is cold, puts on furs, with one whose response is to make a fire that will warm others as well. It thus refers to a person who tends to his own spiritual needs, while ignoring those of others. Return
  2. “Adam is a human being.get a move on!” A kind of nonsense expression, that is a response to a person who puts on airs. Return
  3. “The time has come for her to hear the music” - i.e. to hear the musicians play at a wedding; said of a woman considered to be an old maid. Return
  4. “From King Sobieski's time.” Referring to a seventeenth-century Polish king, a synonym for very old, old-fashioned. Return
  5. “From the Fast of Esther to Purim.” A period of one day (Purim comes the very next day after the Fast of Esther); hence, an expression for something ephemeral. Return
  6. He's wise when it comes to the Four Questions.” A disparaging comment about someone whose depth of knowledge extends to the simplest questions asked by children at the Passover Seder, i.e., not very deep. Return

 

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